DOT setting up hearing on eliminating Metro-North discounts and other cutbacks
Metro-North to discuss ways to generate revenue
The Connecticut Department of Transportation is planning a series of hearings in Stamford and New Haven in mid-September to get feedback on proposals to eliminate discounts for tickets purchased by mail or Internet, instituting a refund service charge, and other revenue-generating measures brought forward by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, officials said.
Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker told Connecticut Rail Commuter Council members that the hearings would cover the proposed elimination of a 2 percent discount on monthly tickets and a 4 percent discount on monthly tickets combined with a MetroCard. They would also cover a proposal to invalidate 10-trip tickets after three months rather than a year, and single-trip and round-trip tickets after seven days instead of three months.
The proposal would also tack a $15 service charge to ticket refunds.
"The interpretation right now is that the loss of the discounts is in the fare category while the other changes are a matter of policy," Parker said. "In this case, to remove the discount we would have to approve it in the state of Connecticut."
"It remains possible that the changes could exist in New York and not Connecticut or they could be adopted in both," DOT Rail Coordinator Eugene Colonese said.
Commuter council Chairman Jim Cameron said the proposed changes, which are targeted at making up an $800 million budget deficit at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, seem poorly conceived to generate revenue and could discourage the us e of trains.
The measure to reduce the validity period for tickets is meant to reduce the amount of revenue lost from rides sold but not collected by conductors, according to the MTA, but Cameron said the policy might actually deter occasional riders from buying them and deprive the railroad of a valuable source of up-front revenue.
"When people buy a 10-trip ticket from the railroad, I thought it was a benefit for the railroad because they got their fares in advance and didn't have to print tickets and add wear and tear to the machines," Cameron said.
Parker also told the council that the Connecticut Department of Transportation would consider paying Metro-North Railroad a fare hold-down payment to help off-set the impact for New York riders if the MTA approves a proposed set of fare increases between 7.6 percent and 9.4 percent at New York stations, including Port Chester and Rye.
Parker and Colonese said they currently hold the position Connecticut was not obligated to make the payments to keep fares level.
If approved, Metro-North monthly fares from Port Chester and Rye to Grand Central Terminal would rise from $226 to $247, more expensive than the same trip from Greenwich stations.
Commuter council members said that they felt the payments defied logic, and that Connecticut shouldn't be subsidizing New York riders when there are so many transportation needs in the state.
"I think it's ridiculous and there'll be a riot in this state if we are subsidizing New York fares," said Rodney Chabot, a New Canaan member of the council.
Parker said that the decision whether to pay the fare hold-down charge would be determined by the operating agreement between the Connecticut DOT and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"If the fare hikes happen, we will end up having a serious discussion between agencies," Parker said. "What we will react to will be the fare that Metro-North implements. We will be impacted if there is not a logical progression of fares along the New Haven Line."
Last year, Gov. M. Jodi Rell delayed a scheduled 1.25 percent annual increase to help pay for the cost of new M-8 rail cars until the cars go into service later this year, and also dropped a proposed 10 percent fare increase on the New Haven Line after an outcry about the impact on commuters.
State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, said that he is concerned that using Connecticut's money to subsidize and maintain lower fares for New York riders is unfair to state residents.
"It would seem unfair and highly inequitable to ask the people of Connecticut to subsidize residents of another state seeking a lower ticket price," Camillo said. "I am concerned that any such action may impact the incentive that Connecticut provides to encourage rail usage by its residents, particularly in these challenging economic times."